Works in the Herald 1934

I understand that a young member of the British House of Commons has written a book about us in which he accuses Australians of being a community of confirmed lotus eaters.

I am unable to gather whether this statement is made in praise or blame of this delectable nation; but, for myself, I should feel distinctly flattered by such a description were it applied to me individually.

"Lotus eater" generally has, for some strange reason, become a term of reproach in this rapidly accelerating workaday world of ours. But for many years now I have held a slowly strengthening belief that lotus eating in moderation is an excellent thing in any man or nation.

But, before we go further, I would have you mark the difference between the lotus eater and the lotus addict. With the lotus addict I have no patience at all. He is usually a poor unfortunate who have never learned how to live and on whose jaded palate even the choicest lotus tastes flat and uninspiring. And he is to be found only in the older countries of the earth.

Although I have consumed a good deal of it myself in an all too short and moderately merry life, I have never been able to identify genuine lotus at the moment of absorption. It is an illusive food to be regarded never speculatively but always reminiscently; so that one may never say, "Let us now eat a little lotus"; but only, "We have eaten lotus and it was good."

It is hard to describe this food of gods (which is purely an abstract thing) even in an abstract way. What the young English critic meant probably, when he labeled us as lotus eaters, was that we gave too much time to sport, or too little to pessimistic contemplation of international destinies.

But lotus eating has little to do with the pursuit or neglect of such palpable things as these. It is something that comes to a man as he walks in a garden on a sunlit day in spring, or as he sits by his fire with a truly good book on a winter night. It is a thing that may never be commanded -- least of all by the sophisticated; but it may be encouraged by those rarely fortunate men of shrewdly simple minds that have nibbled the edges of the secret of life.

And the tragedy is that this hectic, hastening world is losing the secret of it all, and in exchange for what? No man knows -- unless it be Armageddon.

It is all rather pitiful, when one comes to think of it. Imagine a hustling, bustling livewire of a fellow, up to his neck in the speed-crazed swirl of modern life, going through all the motions and accepting all the standards that modern life involves. And, upon some grassy bank, as he swirls by, he sees a calm, unruffled man -- a man who wishes to live a little before he comes to die -- sitting, with his back against a tree, nibbling a little lotus. Does our modern man cry, "Hey, brother! Make room beside you. I, too, would know life for a while." Not he. He probably grabs a megaphone and yells, "Yah! Lotus eater! Get a move on, you big stiff!" and hurries on.

But this is all getting rather serious and prosy, isn't it? And ail I meant to say in the beginning is that that wise and gentle old poet, Wordsworth, foresaw it all and expressed it much more clearly in one line of his famous sonnet:

"Getting and spending we lay waste our powers."

Well, don't we? Or don't we?

Anyhow, this is Saturday afternoon, the time for relaxation. Are we going to spend it gloomy over the injustices of last week or anticipating the problematical pains of Monday next? Not on your sweet life! Let us go out and raid the lotus field! Let's live! Let's catch a tram! Wow! Tear 'em down!

Herald, 16 June 1934, p6

Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2003